Monday, 2 May 2011
The Heretic's Daughter by Kathleen Kent
The book is narrated by ten year old Sarah Carrier (a real historical figure), who is sent to live with her aunt and uncle in Billerica during an outbreak of plague. On her return to Andover (near Salem), she finds that her family is unpopular in their community. Proud and rebellious, when allegations of witchcraft break out in Salem, Sarah's mother soon finds herself accused. And it's not long before Sarah and the rest of the family are caught up in the hysteria and accusations in Salem.
This book was another slow-burner; it started with lots of description of family life and routines in 17th century America, which was interesting for me as I knew little about it, and the seeds of the charges that were to come were planted only slowly by Kent. A cow that Martha Carrier returns to it's owner dies a few days later. The Carriers turn out a worker for having sex with their son and she swears revenge. Some of the other girls start to dislike Sarah.
The pace changes dramatically after the first accusations are made, which I think was a clever narrative device and shows how quickly lives were changed and ended and accusations took on a life of their own. The descriptions of Sarah in prison showed the squalor, filth and destitution of it in ways that were glossed over in other books like Witch Child and The Crucible. One thing that hit me was the part where one of the prisoners is finally found to be innocent, but can not be released as she can't afford to pay for the months she has spent in prison.
I found The Heretic's Daughter to be well written and hard to put down. Kent had obviously completed lots of historical research and really did bring the period to life. The only part I didn't enjoy concerned Sarah's father. Throughout the book there was lots of hints of him having a mysterious early life and being somehow involved with Cromwell and the English Civil War but when we finally learned his 'secret', it didn't live up to the hype. It should either have been better developed, or completely left out.
Verdict: Fascinating portyral of mass hysteria during the Salem witch trials, well worth a read.
Score: 4 out of 5